The Different Faces of Worry: How to Cope in the Midst of a Pandemic

December 17, 2020
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Authored by: Vanessa Thomas, M.Ed (Therapist at Gerena & Associates)

Pandemics are an unfortunate occurrence that can be found at different time periods throughout history. For many of us, we can remember the 2009 H1N1 or “swine flu” pandemic, which according to the CDC had an estimated 60.8 million cases worldwide. Close to eleven years later, we were faced with yet another pandemic – Covid-19 or the coronavirus. Given this, it is not unreasonable to believe that we could very much face another pandemic within our lifetime. In this case, there are some things we can learn from the past and things we can do to keep our
mental health intact in the face of such an uncertain time.

During a pandemic, it’s safe to say the number one emotion we all feel is fear. We are afraid of getting sick and of our loved ones being exposed. For many of us though, the anxiety isn’t solely about being exposed to the virus. It’s also about the other natural consequences of a pandemic, such as fluctuating job security. At the time of this writing, 1 in 5 American households had been laid off from their employment or received a reduction in work hours due to Covid-19, with lower income households (those making less than $50,0000 per year) being the most affected. Others are worried about the loss or cancellation of eagerly awaited plans, vacations, sports, or other events banned during mandatory “social distancing.” More importantly, many people become worried about having enough resources to get them through such times, in the case of a mandatory lockdown – hence the shortage we’ve all seen of the most basics of household items – toilet paper. For the vast majority though, we become worried about what the future holds and all the unknowns that accompany a crisis of this magnitude.

What is worry?

By definition, worry is “giving way to anxiety or unease; allowing one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.” We may not explicitly say or believe we are worried, but it can often present itself behind disguised faces. For example, worry can be seen when we:
• Become more irritable than usual.
• Take out our frustrations on the ones we live with. We may put on a brave face at work in hopes of feeling like things are normal. Meanwhile, at home the defenses come down and those who live with us see all parts of us, including when reality hits and our anxieties return.
• Cry seemingly “out of nowhere.”
• Experience feelings of panic; racing heart, tightness in chest, sweatiness, racing thoughts.
• Have trouble falling or staying asleep when we didn’t struggle with this before.
• Ruminate (thinking about the same thing over and over again).
• Excessively check the news.

What can we do?

First, we can honor these feelings. This means giving yourself permission to let it out! Cry if you need to. Allow yourself a moment to think of all the worst-case scenarios possible. Say aloud to yourself, a friend, or relative that you feel angry, sad, upset, confused, scared, anxious, or all the above. Afterwards, try to:
• Consider what you would do for a friend who was going through a bit of a tough time. You would most likely try doing something kind for them that would make them laugh or take their mind off their worries, even if just for a moment. This is exactly what we can do for ourselves as well.
• Try watching a movie. Maybe an old favorite or opt for something upbeat or “feel good” like a comedy, romance, or action. Whichever you choose, stay away from sci-fi movies about mass destruction and the world ending!
• Take a break from social media and news outlets. While good to stay informed, being constantly inundated with bad news is bound to take a toll on anyone’s mental health. Plus, many times, the media exacerbates the negative while overshadowing the positive.
• Turn off the TV and turn up your favorite music.
• Get lost in a good book- maybe the one that’s been collecting dust on your coffee table for some months now.
• If possible, spend quality time with loved ones. During pandemics, contact with others may be limited, but with today’s technology, that certainly doesn’t equate to being isolated. Do your best to stay connected in other ways such as Facetime, Marco Polo, Skype, or Zoom.
• If safe to do so, get some fresh air. How many of us are stuck behind desks and computer screens for 7-8 hours every day? Rejuvenate by spending time in nature and getting back to the simple things.
• Most importantly,remember there is only so much in your control.We cannot always change what happens around us, but we can control how we react to it. As the late author and motivational speaker Dr. Leo Buscaglia said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” 

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